I began the tank cycle on the 2nd February 2020 with a bottle of Dr Tim's One and Only plus the recommended dose of ammonium chloride. Thereafter I tested ammonia, nitrite and nitrate every day for 27 days. Needless to say the levels I recorded in my tank did not look like the neat and tidy graphs I see posted online. I added further doses of ammonium chloride, as per instructions, on days 3 and 6. I also boosted the ammonia again on day 15 and 17 to keep things ticking over. The lights were left off during the cycle but there was some overspill from the Reefer 170.
Here's what the ammonia and nitrite levels looked like.
And here is nitrate.
By day 10 the nitrate level had reached the upper limit of my Salifert test kit so I had to dilute the sample first by 1 in 5 and then later on by 1 in 10. On day 15 the nitrate level had reached a whopping 250ppm!! I envisioned having to perform water changes every week for the next 6 months or so. Things were starting to look a bit grim. The largest water change I can perform at any one time is 30% so on day 19 that's exactly what I did. The following day I recorded the level at 180ppm which is exactly the amount I expected following the water change but what I didn't expect was to see an increase in the nitrite level again. I continued my daily testing and not only did the nitrite levels fall back down again but the nitrate levels kept dropping and dropping till on day 27 they read a rather acceptable 5ppm with no further water changes required. How weird! I have a feeling that the off the scale nitrate levels were probably due to interference by nitrite, either that or I have a super duper nitrate reducing system in my tank. Patent pending.
Whilst the tank was cycling my tank cover arrived and I was somewhat disappointed to discover that there is what I consider to be an excessively large gap between top of the weir comb and the mesh lid. What's that all about? Why can't the level of the weir be designed to be more in line with the top of the tank?? I don't have the D-D branded cover but I can't imagine that sits any lower than any of the other alternatives. Anyway there's more than enough room for any of my small to moderately sized fish to squeeze through and since there is no cover on the weir they'll end up stuck down inside it or take a ride down into the sump. Neither alternative is acceptable so I plugged the gap with some clear acrylic sheet. There is still a small gap to the right of the weir comb that I haven't fixed but it's pretty narrow so hopefully my fish won't discover it (famous last words I know).
On day 11 I fired up the skimmer, an Ultra-Reef UKS-160 mainly for aeration purposes. This is not a new skimmer but you wouldn't know it, as soon as the pump was fired up it went completely crazy so I left the cup off for the time being. Plenty of air going in there to be sure.
10 days later it showed no signs of calming down and I was getting a bit sick of the salt creep everywhere so I fitted the cup with the drain plug removed so that the water overflowed into the cup and back into the sump again. As you can see protein scum began collecting inside the cup.
Skip forward another 13 days and still the skimmer was in overdrive despite the flow restrictor being wide open and the unit sitting in exactly the right level of water. I decide to craft a stand to raise it up a bit, eggcrate, PVC pipe and cable ties later...ta da!
That was version 1, since then the pipe legs have been cut down a bit as the skimmer was then sitting a bit too high (typical) but it's started working well now. I have read that skimmer collection is reduced in tanks where roller filters are also employed but it's definitely pulling out some stinky stuff. Talking of the X-filter, I must hold my hand up and admit how I eagerly watched and waited for the motor to turn for the very first time, yes I'm sad like that. It seemed to take an age for the water level to rise up and trigger the level sensor, lol. The excitement has since worn off a bit as I've become used to the motor just doing its thing, it is quite satisfying to see the used dirty brown roll. Better out than in (I hope).
On day 27 I considered the tank to be pretty much cycled. Diatoms were beginning to take hold on the sand and rocks so I decided to add some Tisbe copepods. I wanted to encourage the growth of these little critters as much as possible before transferring any of (my pod loving) fish over from the Reefer. For a couple of days I thought the tank must be toxic and I'd killed them all off as I couldn't find a single pod on the glass but then they bit by bit they slowly started to appear. This made me one extremely happy reefer (I'm easily pleased clearly).
On the same day as adding the copepods I fired up the refugium. I'm a big fan of refugia not just as an area for the growth of macro algae but also for the reproduction of beneficial critters (and also as a place to relegate any naughty crabs etc if needed). I wanted to keep the light spill down to a minimum inside the sump itself so I designed something to sit in the cupboard to the left of the sump with the pipework entering and exiting via the existing hole in the cabinet. I didn't want to have to modify the cabinet in any way and I almost, just almost, got away with it. The pipework was a tight fit but worked out perfectly, however the tank height was out by just over a millimetre, arghh! I had to sand down the back wall of the cabinet a touch to get it to fit. Ooops! I decided not to make the tank myself this time as it would be a lot bigger than my previous set up and hence more water to worry about leaking, instead I got Wharf Aquatics to make it for me. I'm running a Kessil H80 for the time being (that one I had lighting the Reefer refugium) but I may switch to something more viewer friendly at a later date, I'm not really a fan of the red/purple lighting to be honest.
Here it is looking clean and tidy (needless to say it doesn't look like this now, far from it!).
Incidentally even though I did not directly add any copepods to the refugium some have made it down there anyway from the DT and it's now buzzing with pod activity. I have the X-filter bypass controllers fully closed but still the pods have managed to find a way through the filter, past the skimmer and through the refugium pump/pipe and into the refugium, which I find pretty amazing to be honest.
Once the tank had been filled and the return pump fired up the X-filter was switched on. I waited for the flushing noise to subside fully expecting it to take a whole day of adjustment. For a while I really did think that I'd set the pipes up wrong or fitted the X-filter incorrectly because the gushing noise was deafening but a simple tweak of the gate valve and all became silent. OMG the gate valve is fabulous!! Naturally there wasn't much happening with the X-filter at that point as I needed to wait for the water level inside to rise before seeing some action.
When I got up the next day eager to admire my newly running tank there was a glaring problem with the outflow pipe. When I had fitted the pipe it did seem a bit loose but I thought it must be just normal but when the return pump is switched on the force of the water makes the pipe sag down resulting in a rather fine sand storm. I decided that a washer must be needed so I ordered one online but when it was fitted it didn't help matters at all, the outflow pipe was now pointing upwards and out of the tank. I had never read of an issue like this being posted on UltimateReef (or anywhere else) so thought that maybe it was just me being an idiot. Perhaps I was being overly cautious screwing in the pipe in place, I must admit I was kinda worried about cracking the glass so I got my husband to try but no joy either. We both agreed that the outflow pipe was useless with or without the new washer. We had water spraying out of the tank at one point, lol. It's a pity I didn't have a camera recording at the time as I'm sure you all would have found it quite amusing. I however did not! Anyway in desperation I went out to the garage and rummaged around in the old pipework fittings box and incredibly I found another seal from an old bulkhead fitting, it's not an exact size but it was the correct width AND it fitted. Finally I can get the water circulating through the sump but, oh what a faff!! Maybe I should have gone with the Red Sea Reefer after all..... An e-mail from D-D later informed me that an o-ring should have been supplied with the tank.
Now that the outflow pipe was secured I wanted to try fitting a random flow generator to it. I had ordered the Innovitech RFG at the same time as the X-filter but when I saw it in person it looked huge, the family thought it looked ugly and also.... wait for it..... it wouldn't fit, lol (I wasn't doing very well there was I, in my defence I did ask before placing the order but Reefolution didn't know if it fitted either). The RFG fits on to a 25mm outlet but the Reef-pros are 20mm. The RS Reefer 170 has 25mm pipe but the D-D 1200 which is double the size has just 20mm, why? Anyway I didn't like to be defeated so I set to finding how to connect this ugly duckling to the outflow pipe. There turned out to be a few ways to connect it and this is the option I went for. I removed the duckbill and lower 90 degree bend and fitted a 1/2 inch 90 degree threaded elbow with a 20mm to 1/2 inch male adaptor, the RFG now simply slips on the outside of the male adaptor. It is not exactly low profile but it's as low as I could get it. I hadn't fully decided whether to keep it in place or not but once the tank was actually running it didn't stand out quite as much as I'd initially feared (I can't speak for rest of the family) perhaps it will turn into a swan? I do feel it's more suited to larger tanks (update: since then I've learnt to live with it).
Naturally a new tank requires some shiny new equipment. First up was an Innovitech X-filter. I like to feed my livestock a lot and that will surely increase as my NPS corals grow bigger, the roller filter will hopefully help me keep a handle on nutrient levels.
In order to fit the above I had to modify the sump a little. I removed the first baffle and the bits of glass that were designed to support the filter socks.
I also took the opportunity to replace the standard ball valve. I really, really hated the valve on the Reefer 170, it was so tricky to adjust. Why manufacturers still produce systems using these fittings I'll never know, they clearly have no care for the sanity of the poor reefers who spend endless hours trying to balance the water level afterwards. I had purchased a gate valve for the Reefer 170 ages ago but never got around to fitting it because I don't like to mess about with important pipework when a tank is up and running. It was good to put this purchase to use finally.
Fitting the pipework underneath the tank was a bit of a nightmare, the instructions suggest you slide the tank over to one side in order to get better access to the joints but firstly, the tank is god damn heavy and secondly, I had the Reefer running to the right of it so there was just no space. We tightened the joints as best we could and got on with a wet test. The joints leaked naturally so we took a deep breath and had another go at tightening the joints and fortunately that seemed to do the trick.
Since my trusty Tunze Silence pump was too small to power the new tank I needed a new return pump. I opted to try a Sicce Syncra SDC 6.0 this time round. It has a nifty app for control which alerts you if there is a loss of connection, the rotor is blocked or if the water temperature is out of bounds. I thought these kind of notifications would be very useful in the future until I switched the pump on and got an alert that the rotor was actually blocked. What the...? Out came the pump for inspection and the rotor checked but all seemed fine so back in it went again. It started up fine but I just kept getting an alert. Another removal and check but all appeared as it should. My stress levels were rising now, lol. A quick e-mail to Sicce determined that the pump was fine but the controller was faulty. Two days later a new controller turned up and everything worked as it should. That's a great service from Sicce in Italy.
Hi, my name is Lisa and I live in Derby, UK. I am a self-confessed reefaholic!